Rough Justice

by Rigby Taylor

Chapter 12

Monique and Sanjay's alarm when confronted by Bart's injuries, turned to horror when they learned the truth about the accident. He insisted he already felt much better, although his bloodied ear, bruised neck, lacerated hands and slow, painful movements didn't back up the assertions. Things were as bad under his clothes, but during the bathing and dressing of wounds that morning he had made Robert promise not to mention them. Sympathy was the last thing he wanted. He had already snapped at Monique for fussing - apologising immediately. She had patted him on the head and said she understood, but he still felt rotten.

He had a strength both rare and unappreciated in a society based on convention and conformity. He took responsibility for himself – unlike the "tough Aussie bloke" sneering What are ya? from the security of a bunch of equally intolerant mates. Despite misgivings, he had welcomed a lover into his hard and solitary world, but was now realising that Robert's family would also expect entrance. He wasn't ready for that.

The sunlit peace of the patio was disturbed by raised voices from the kitchen. Robert was mystified, his parents never argued – at least not when he could hear. Bart's sick nervousness increased. He guessed the parents were discussing him. A sudden sharp vision of the previous night's terror sent a wave of nausea through his guts and he just made it into the garden before throwing up most of the sloppy porridge and tea he'd forced down at breakfast. Robert supported his trembling frame back to the divan, replaced the blanket and held a glass of water to his lips before hosing the evil smelling mess into the ground.

'They're arguing about me,' Bart croaked through a throat even sorer than before. 'I'm getting out of here before they tell me to go.'

'Like hell you are! You're staying even if I have to tie you down. They like you! It's not about us at all.'

The day clouded over and a south westerly blew up to remind them that although it was September winter hadn't finished with them yet. Robert lit the fire in the lounge and installed Bart on the couch. Monique prepared lunch with a tight mouth while Sanjay sat at the dining table writing in a notebook.

'I can't eat anything. I can't swallow.' Bart murmured miserably.

'Leave it to me.' Robert went to the kitchen, put his arm round his mother's waist and spoke quietly. Their murmuring increased Bart's disquiet, but he was so exhausted he fell into a doze, to be woken by Robert sitting beside him and rubbing a spoon across his cheek.

'Get outside this. Mum's blended everything so it'll slip straight into your stomach.' In between his own mouthfuls, Robert spooned the mush into Bart. It wasn't that his hands were too sore to hold the spoon; he didn't trust himself not to shake and spill everything. He felt better afterwards and the fire cheered his spirits. Monique and Sanjay continued their muted conversation at the dining table. After everything had been cleared away they joined the two young men, sitting in their armchairs at each side of the fireplace.

'Show-down time,' Sanjay stated humourlessly. 'When murder stalks its time to lay all the cards on the table.' He opened his notebook.

Bart jerked involuntarily.

'We assume the attack on Bart may have something to do with the following three things. One: Murray Corso's suicide; two: Bart talking to the police about Lance Osbairnes bullying; three: Mr Nikelseer's warning to you both and his telephone call last night. The missing piece in the puzzle is the exact relationship between you two.' He gazed severely at the young men.

Neither dared speak. Bart was trying not to throw up again. Robert was trying not to throw a tantrum. One stared at the floor, the other at the fire. Monique cleared her throat.

'We are not prying, nor are we sitting in judgement.' Sanjay continued. 'All we want to know is, are you friends or lovers?'

Dead silence as Bart wished the earth would swallow him, and Robert fought the urge to smash something. He looked both parents in the eye and stated defiantly, 'Both. Best mates and… the other thing.'

'But how can you know, mon chère? How can you be so sure?'

'How did you know you were heterosexual?' whispered Bart.

Monique blustered. 'It… it is normal. It feels normal.'

'What I want feels normal to me.' Robert sounded petulant.

'But you've had girlfriends. Jocelyn? She was nice.'

'Nothing happened with Jocelyn. I didn't like her in that way.' Robert turned to his father for support. 'Dad knows, we talked about it after that party at the beginning of term.'

Sanjay nodded. 'That's one explanation for your problem with the girl that night. But are you certain it's the correct one?'

'Of course.'

'Bart is a sympathetic young man. Perhaps it is hero-worship?'

'Mum! Give me some credit.'

'Is it my fault? Have we done something wrong?'

'Fault? Wrong? What the hell are you on about? I'm gay! I love Bart! There, I've said it! And he loves me!' Distraught, he turned to Bart sitting red-faced and miserable beside him.

'But how can you expect to be happy if…?' Despite herself, Monique's voice was developing a hectoring edge.

'That's enough, Monique. Because it would be unnatural for us, doesn't mean it is for them.' Sanjay turned to Robert. 'Is this harming your prospects for good examination results?'

'You're joking! I've never felt better.'

'But surely, to discover you are… homosexual, must be a terrifying experience?'

Robert's mouth gaped. 'Don't you understand anything, Mum?' he shouted. 'Until last week I thought I was sub-human! I couldn't bear the thought of going on! I wanted to become an instant old man so I wouldn't have to go through this sex and growing up crap. I was desperate! Now I'm… I'm… I feel as though I've finally become a human being!'

Monique looked bewildered.

'It's not traumatic to realise you're gay, Monique,' Bart ground out in a whisper, 'if you have supportive parents. Self-acceptance is always accompanied by a sense of liberation, even exhilaration. Confusions fall into place, problems recede and tensions disappear. Work performance usually improves as well.'

The other three looked at Bart curiously.

'Am I talking like a text-book?'

Sanjay nodded.

'I was a telephone counsellor for a year and read everything I could find on the subject. Replacement therapy for the real thing, I expect,' he added morosely.

'I'm sure it will come in useful.' Sanjay was finding it hard not to smile. 'So, Robert, you're confident your exams won't suffer?'

'Of course not!'

'And that problem you had with the girl at the party. Has that receded?'

Robert blushed furiously. 'Of course it has! And I hate you both for putting Bart through this.'

'Don't,' muttered Bart. 'Be grateful. They are doing it because they love you. Parents who don't try to understand their children don't care about them – only about themselves.'

'Do your parents know about you, Bart?'

'No. They wouldn't be able to cope. My father guesses, that's why he never wants to see me. My mother goes through life in blinkers, refusing to admit what a misery her life is. I'm not going to add to that.'

Silence. Mother and father looked into each other's eyes and reached silent agreement. Robert and Bart sat in blanked-out embarrassment. Sanjay got to his feet and stood impressively behind his wife like a caricature Victorian paterfamilias. His tone was formal. 'Thank you for putting up with our questions. You have convinced us that you understand yourselves, and we accept your sexual orientation without reservations. That doesn't mean we are pleased about it, but that's our problem, not yours.

Bart started to shake.

Monique knelt at his side. 'Bart! What is the matter? Are you in pain?'

'No, no. I feel...light, happy, relieved and relaxed for the first time I can remember. You are the first heterosexuals I've ever told I'm gay.' He sniffled and swallowed painfully. 'You can't imagine what it's like to live with the fear that people will find out. To always lie and pretend. To never let your guard down. To feel so completely alone and… and yet unable to change.'

'Poor Bart. Have you often wanted to change?'

'Never! I like what I am. I'd hate to be heterosexual - so I can understand your reservations.'

'Despite the euphoria, you have to see a doctor.'

'I've had worse knocks playing water polo, Sanjay. That's a really rough sport - especially under water. No, I'll just stay away from school for a few days.' He did not intend to risk the loss of hard-earned respect by displaying his injuries to his pupils, and certainly wasn't going to give Lance any pleasure - whether or not it had been him and his mates.

'You'll need a doctor's certificate to avoid losing salary, so go and see our doctor tomorrow. Unless you have one of your own?'

Bart shook his head.

'Tell him you need at least three days off. He usually does as he's told.' Sanjay smiled at his hands, then caught Monique's eye, nodded slightly and continued seriously. 'You'd be doing us a favour, Bart, if you didn't return to your unit until you've recovered.'

Bart frowned.

'It is not you we're thinking of, it's us. Robert will drive us mad worrying, so stay here for a few days. There's a spare bed in Robert's room.'

'Thanks, but I hate putting people out. I'm fine, honestly. I can manage perfectly well at home.'

'Nonsense!' Monique was adamant. 'I could never forgive myself if anything happened!'

Bart looked from one to the other, uneasy at the attention.

'That's settled then,' said Sanjay firmly.

Robert was having difficulty breathing. Everything was out in the open. No poisonous secrets waited to destroy the family bond.

Bart was in peril of bursting into tears. It had all happened too quickly and he still couldn't believe it. He swallowed and took a few seconds to speak. 'Why? Why are you like this? There has to be some misunderstanding. No one can be so easy about their son having… doing… being… with … Are you sure…?' He bit his lip, not daring to trust their words.

'We're sure, 'said Monique with a sly grin. 'At first I was annoyed that I will never be a grandmother, but then I realised that neither of us wants the responsibility of grandchildren growing up today. Also, we find you sympathetic and… I would be very jealous of a daughter in law.'

Bart looked trapped.

Robert was out of his depth.

'To make sure you both understand where we're coming from I'll state our position again, so listen carefully,' Sanjay said with a slight smile. 'Monique and I have scrupulously examined our feelings about your relationship. Whether you believe it or not, we are happy about it. Robert has been a pain in the butt for the past three years and his association with you, Bart, seems to have snapped him out of it. Any reservations we might have are purely selfish, and nothing to do with your sexual orientation.' He grinned. 'It would be a pity if it worried you more than us.'

'I have no problem with myself, Sanjay. I fear for Robert. There are people out there who want our sort dead! I wonder if, after last night, I can take responsibility for another person?'

'Hey! No one takes responsibility for me! I take it for myself! I do what I do because I want to. It's my decision, my responsibility. If things go wrong, I can handle it!'

'Not our brother's keeper eh?' Bart shook his head, sighed and dared a smile. 'This is the second best day of my life.'

'When was the first?' inquired Sanjay innocently.


Sanjay grinned. 'Now to the important business—the enemy. Can you manage a discussion now, Bart? Or would you like a rest first?'

'No, no, I'm fine.'

'Very well. I'll read what I've written, then we'll let our minds drift. First, the headmaster. One, he's dogmatic. Can't handle criticism. Two, denies Murray suicided as a result of gay bashing. Three, disapproves of teachers consorting with pupils. (Thinks Bart and Robert are conspiring against him. Threatened trouble if their association continued.) Four, despite three above, has personal contact himself, with Lance. Now Lance. One, with two others has assaulted Murray at least thrice. Two, is homophobic, racist, sexist and little liked. Three, has threatened Robert because of his suggestion of blackmail as a nickname, and his accusation that Lance was responsible for Murray's death. Four, appears to have a hot-line to Nikelseer's thoughts.' Sanjay put his notes on the table. 'It's not much.'

Robert cleared his throat. 'There's something I haven't told anyone,' he said carefully, 'because it mainly concerns Mr Pinot. But it also involves Lance, so maybe you should know about it.' He gave a not too graphic description of the session between the guidance counsellor and Mandy Sorens, but left them in no doubt that it was a serious attempt at blackmail; inspired, if Mandy could be believed, by Lance. 'If she kept her word he either paid up on Friday, or she went yesterday to tell his wife. I wonder what happened.'

The silence as they contemplated the mystery of their fellow humans was broken by Bart's hoarse whisper. 'We have to find out more about Lance… About everything.'

Everyone agreed and it was eventually decided that when Bart recovered he would sound out the groundsman and Mr Pinot, Monique would take Susie to see what they could get out of Mandy's mother, Sanjay would dig up the dirt on the Osbairne family, and Robert would do his best to uncover any dirty linen belonging to Lance and his mates.

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